Arkansas jury deliberating over deputy fatally shooting teen

CABOT, Ark. (AP) — Jurors began deliberating Thursday in the manslaughter trial of a former Arkansas deputy who fatally shot an unarmed 17-year-old during a traffic stop.

The jury deliberated for two hours following a day of testimony that included Michael Davis, a former sergeant with the Lonoke County sheriff’s office, emotionally recounting the June 23 fatal shooting of Hunter Brittain, who was white. Jurors plan to resume deliberations Friday morning.

Davis faces between three and 10 years in prison if a jury convicts him of felony manslaughter for shooting Brittain, whose death drew the attention of national civil rights leaders and activists.

“I didn’t get into this job to kill people,” Davis, who is also white, said as his voice cracked during more than an hour of testimony.

If jurors don’t convict Davis of manslaughter, they will consider whether to find him guilty of the lesser charge of negligent homicide, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison.

Brittain was killed outside an auto repair shop near Cabot, a city of about 26,000 people roughly 30 miles (48 kilometers) northeast of Little Rock.

Davis testified that he fired at Brittain after the teen didn’t comply with his commands to show his hands as he exited his truck and reached into the bed of the pickup. Brittain was holding a container — which his family members have said held antifreeze — and no evidence of firearms were found in or near the truck, investigators said.

“I didn’t know what he was reaching for,” Davis testified. “I thought he was reaching for a gun, a rifle, specifically.”

Brittain’s family members have said he was grabbing the container to place behind the truck’s wheel to stop it from rolling backward.

A passenger who was with Brittain and another witness have testified they didn’t hear any commands from the deputy before he shot the teen.

Davis was fired by Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley in July for not turning on his body camera until after the shooting. Jurors this week were shown that footage.

Other witnesses who testified Thursday included a deputy who responded after the shooting and a lieutenant with the sheriff’s office who coordinated officers’ training.

Prosecutors argued that Davis acted recklessly by shooting Brittain, noting that the two witnesses said they never heard him yell any commands.

“When he pulled the trigger, he did it based on fear, not facts,” Deputy Prosecutor Steve Higgins said during closing arguments.

Robert Newcomb, Davis’ attorney, said the deputy had a reasonable belief that his life was in danger during the stop when the teen reached in the back of the truck.

Before deliberations began, one of the jurors was replaced after he was taken away in an ambulance because of an unspecified medical issue. He was replaced by one of two alternates.

The trial is being held in the cafeteria of an Army National Guard facility in Cabot rather than the county courthouse.

Brittain was eulogized last year by the Rev. Al Sharpton and two attorneys who represented George Floyd’s family. They said the teen’s death highlighted the need for interracial support for changes in policing. Brittain’s family and friends have regularly demonstrated outside the Lonoke County sheriff’s office, demanding more details on the shooting.

Floyd died in May 2020 when a white Minneapolis police officer used his knee to pin the handcuffed Black man’s neck to the ground. His death sparked nationwide protests over policing and racial inequality.

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